We’re the Millers falls into a peculiar category that Hollywood seemed to abandon in the 80s but has been getting resurrected quite a bit today: the innocuously offensive comedy. These are flicks that wear their R-rating like a badge of honor, flinging around saucy language (my word!), graphic hints at sexuality (how dare they!), and even dollops of poo (disgusting!), all for the sake of laughs. The only catch is that no one involved in the movie actually has an interest in being transgressive or subversive. Nope, they just want the extra laugh being outrageous provides. So you end up with a comedy that isn’t offensive or shocking as it is…well, R-rated and there’s a market for such things. That doesn’t make the movie bad, just slots it into a category of work that really shouldn’t be treated seriously or given much thought. It’s just a bunch of adults getting together giggling at dirty words and raunchy subjects. Still funny, just only worth a peak if you feel like joining them in the locker room.
With Hall Pass and Horrible Bosses under his belt, Jason Sudeikis has become something of a specialist in the type of comedy, so unsurprisingly he stars in We’re The Millers as a down on his luck pot dealer with a heart not so much made of gold, but it’s at least a little shiny. After being robbed and shoved into debt, his former college buddy turned wealthy/insane dealer Ed Helms tells Sudeikis that the only way he can make things right is to take a trip down to Mexico to smuggle in a “smidge” of pot. Sudeikis is no smuggler, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So he decides to round up a fake family comprised of a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a homeless teen (Emma Roberts), and a dorky neighbor (Son of Rambow’s Will Poulter, all grown up) and shoves them all into a Winnebago because no border guard would ever stop a family, right? Fortunately the “will they/won’t they” border hopping suspense portion of the movie disappears almost instantly and We’re The Millers transformers into a soft-R twist on the episodic family vacation genre filled with improvised sketches, diversions, and humdingers. What “plot” there is can be easily predicted, so thankfully the filmmakers focus on the interludes.
Skipping the plot in favor of improv character comedy was probably the best decision Dodgeball director Rawson Marshall Thurber made when he took on the project. As a piece storytelling or a vehicle for any sort of thematic message, We’re The Millers is a muddled mess and grounds to a halt any time that material comes up (particularly during the almost unwatchably sentimental chunks of the third act). The good news is that Thurber seemed to pick up on the screenplay’s glaring weaknesses and shoved them to the background whenever possible in favor of letting the cast have their way with silliness. The cameos pile up quick with Thomas Lennon providing one of his patented repressed suburban dads, Ken Marino doing a sleazy strip club manager thing, Luis Guzman portraying a south of the border cop with a love for dirty bribes, and best of all Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn as a pair of genuine Winnebago loser parents looking to experiment with their sexuality/guns.
Whenever those folks are on screen mucking about with gentle sleaze specialist Sudeikis (who’s turning into something of a contemporary Chevy Chase in his post-SNL career) there are laughs to be had. It’s an age old Hollywood comedy formula that Thurber knows well: populate the supporting cast with comedy wringers and the script problems won’t be as easy to hear under the laughter. Roberts and Poulter are game for anything as the goofy kids, while Jennifer Anniston does her usual “irritated straight lady in a comedy” thing and shows off her tight 44-year-old bod as a stripper, if that means anything to you. It still confuses me that the never funny Aniston somehow became a flagship comedy star, but I guess she does angry deadpan decently enough. It just would have been nice for the second lead to be able to toss some laughs around as well.
So, We’re The Millers ism’t a great comedy or even a particularly good one. However, if you like safe R-rated laughs there are plenty of those thanks to a giddy cast and a director who knows how to work with them and shoot improv cinematically. You’ll probably forget the details of the plot within seconds of leaving the theater, but moments like Sudeikis convincing his 18-year old sort-of friend to blow Luis Guzman or Nick Offerman trying to seduce a man for the first time with a handlebar stache, a finger, and an ear will certainly offer a couple chuckles of remembrance. The flick is what it is and does what it does, but at least goes through its comedy motions efficiently and effectively. That’s something and it’ll make for a decent enough hungover Netflix giggler in a few months. If nothing else, it’s nice to see Ben Stiller assistant-turned-director Rawson Marshall Thurber back behind a mainstream comedy after his ill advised indie Mysteries of Pittsburgh diversion. He’s got a knack for this sort of thing and if he can get this many laughs out of a story as weak as We’re the Millers, just imagine what he could do with a decent script? Hopefully we’ll find out fairly soonish.